How Remote Work Complicates Benefits

A recent paper published by McKinsey Global Institute entitled “The future of work after COVID-19” highlights various changes in the workplace because of the pandemic. The paper also covers projections of what changes will persist beyond this health crisis. One of these major trends — no surprise here — is remote working. While working from home will decrease after the pandemic, McKinsey predicts that it still result in a significant net increase from the level before the pandemic. 

A challenge for HR executives is how to manage employee benefits in a new work-from-anywhere world. Here are some top considerations:

Benefit Appropriateness

Benefits are sometimes limited or even very restricted by geography. For example, if Kaiser is a company’s primary medical plan, moving to a location outside of where Kaiser is offered leaves an employee with no or very limited medical coverage. Under a PPO plan, a less densely populated area may have a very limited network or perhaps only out-of-network coverage, exposing both the employer and employee to significantly increased claims costs. 

Likewise, disability benefits may function entirely differently from state to state due to state-mandated disability coverage. And then there may be more simple limits, like participation in the company wellness program, health fairs, or flu vaccines offered on-site. 

Understanding these limits and communicating them clearly to employees who choose to work remotely or who are looking to relocate is therefore extremely important to managing their expectations and ultimately job satisfaction.  

Change Communication

Technology-aided attention deficit disorder was here well before Covid, but now it attacks with a sweeping vengeance. Video conference call upon video conference call produces attention fatigue. (Nevermind that most people are guilty of answering emails and texts on these calls while pretending to pay attention.) Scientists have provided much data over the years that proves multitasking and lack of focus limit the ability for best-thinking outcomes and reduce productivity. 

Consequently, employers must cut through all this noise and communicate and develop an understanding of their programs in a fresh, and concise manner, beyond just the obvious of conducting all this virtually. What has been successful this past year is shorter, more frequent messaging. Keep presentations and video training shorter in duration, 20 minutes or less, preferably 10. Provide a higher frequency of communication to reinforce key concepts and messaging. Be creative. 

While all this will require a different type of planning, it is possible to host virtual health fairs with exercise and cooking classes during open enrollment, while peppering in benefits education.

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Additionally, now is the time to re-examine how efficient and user-friendly your  benefits administration system is. Given today’s complex virtual and hybrid world, as well as competing priorities, a company’s benefits administration system needs to be clear and easy for employees to understand and use. With the enhancements and improvement of user experience, consider making this tool a magnet for employees as a place to go for learning and development, company community, company values, and culture.

Addressing Mental Health

Three out of 5 American workers reported feeling lonely during the pandemic, which has a negative impact on work performance — 12% of lonely workers say they believe the quality of their work isn’t up to par. These employees also reported feeling “less engaged, less productive” and they constantly think about quitting their jobs

According to the Mental Health Index: U.S. Worker Edition, employee stress levels, already considered high before the pandemic, rose 22%, and anxiety rose 45% since February 2020. Furthermore, risk of depression is up 145% when compared with before the pandemic. General and social anxiety, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, are also up significantly since pre-pandemic times.

That’s why companies must remove remaining shackles of stigma when it comes to talking about mental-health issues. They must provide tools and resources for people to address good mental health. This includes telehealth, which has recently been made available for mental health counseling visits and is very convenient. 

Managing the many complications and nuances of benefits that work-from-anywhere requires can be overwhelming. Slow down and take the process step-by-step and consider how in the long-run embracing the virtual workplace can result in a more productive, engaged, and happy workforce.

Doug Ramsthel is a partner and executive vice president at Burnham Benefits, a Baldwin Risk Partners Company, one of the top 50 employee benefit consulting firms in the United States. He consults employers across the U.S. on their benefit plan strategy, design, funding, and communication. Doug is also a co-founder of 360 Rx Solutions, a company dedicated to providing PBM transparency and value for self-Funded employers.

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